3 Reasons the Best CEOs Can Be MIA

The best CEOs are on a "digital sabbatical" at least once a year. They don't let the business suffer and their employees benefit from it. See how you can do to.

Are you a leader who worries that your office’s productivity will slump if you aren’t there? Do you wonder how employees will respond if there’s an emergency? Are you convinced that the business will fall apart if you’re gone for more than a day? If so, you might want to consider taking a page out of the Navy Seals’ training book.

The military recognizes that battlefield situations can be volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). The military knows that a leader may become sick or injured while on a mission. That doesn’t mean the mission stops. In the case of Navy Seals, the team is capable of executing the plan because every member knows their assignments. They are prepared for the uncertainty that comes while in the field and use their training to ensure success.

With the uncertainties that business leaders face, they are beginning to understand the value of VUCA. They also recognize the need for leadership skills like those found in elite groups such as Navy Seals. As discussed in their book Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin suggest that businesses can learn a lot about leadership from the Seals. Using the following three steps, business leaders can develop an atmosphere of resilience that ensures success, even when they are on holiday.

  • Know the mission
  • Prepare the team
  • Let it go

Developing skills to execute these three steps makes it easier for corporate leaders to face the volatility of the business landscape with confidence that their organizations can survive.

Know the Mission

No commander wants to head into a situation without “good intel.” No CEO should lead from a place of ignorance. CEOs need to gather information from reliable sources, so they are moving forward with as much data as possible. Leaders aren’t responsible for collecting all the data, but they are accountable for using the best “on-the-ground” intelligence available.

Ask Questions

Leaders ask questions. They don’t hide their confusion and hope for the best. CEOs can’t communicate a clear direction if they don’t understand where they are going. Even with the best available information, business leaders should ask for clarification. It is vital that everyone understand the why of a project or mission. If that means asking more questions, make sure your team feels comfortable in asking them. Success is more than just knowing what; it is also understanding why.
You cannot have a plan that is 100% complete. Instead, have an 80% plan, knowing that at some point, one or more VUCA elements will take hold. CEOs should set mission objectives and develop strategies for meeting them. They need to identify possible obstacles and create contingency plans. But rather than spend time worrying about a perfect plan, use the time to prepare your team. Developing a team that adapts to changing circumstances matters more than a comprehensive plan.

Once people stop making excuses, stop blaming others, and take ownership of everything in their lives, they are compelled to take action to solve their problems.

Plan for Success

You cannot have a plan that is 100% complete. Instead, have an 80% plan, knowing that at some point, one or more VUCA elements will take hold. CEOs should set mission objectives and develop strategies for meeting them. They need to identify possible obstacles and create contingency plans. But rather than spend time worrying about a perfect plan, use the time to prepare your team. Developing a team that adapts to changing circumstances matters more than a comprehensive plan.

Prepare the Team

Seals are known for their incredible teamwork. They have learned that success is a team effort. As a leader, it is your job to encourage a team-oriented environment. Successful CEOs create teams where everyone understands their role and the value of each team member. Like Seal commanders, the best business leaders understand that a failure to execute by a single team member can spell disaster for the entire team. They make sure that no matter what the position, everyone knows they are part of a team.

Simplify and Communicate

When communicating plans, business leaders need to simplify the mission no matter how complex it may be. Whenever possible, leaders need to revise plans until they are as straightforward as possible. Highly complex plans can lead to confusion, resulting in poor field decisions because the mission was not clear. When circumstances change, communication is critical to keeping everyone informed of a fluid situation.

Prioritize and Execute

Circumstances can become overwhelming. In those instances, prioritize and execute as a Seal team leader would do. Pick the most important task and focus on completing it as quickly as possible. Then, move to the next. In extreme situations, identify the top three priorities and execute them one at a time; then, identify the next set of three and complete those until the project is complete. Limiting the team’s focus can help keep them on-task and minimize the anxiety that comes from looking at situations outside one’s control.

Let It Go

Although this is the last step in the process, it is a step that should be incorporated from the beginning. Business leaders need to let go of the idea that every mission will be a success or that failure reflects poorly on them. Once CEOs come to accept failure, they can let go of their egos, knowing that the outcome is not about them. In such an environment, individuals become team members who are willing to take on challenges.

Accept Failure

Failure is a part of life. When you experience business failures, learn from them. Was the mission poorly defined? Was there a failure to communicate? As a leader, did you build a strong enough team? Not only should you accept failure, but you need to instill that acceptance in your team. They should understand that failure doesn’t always mean poor performance. Sometimes the greatest efforts in battle do not result in a complete victory.

A team that is disciplined and prepared with the necessary information to make innovative decisions, even when the CEO is MIA.

Check Your Ego

Your ego should never be the primary driver of a project or mission. Your first thought shouldn’t be how will this reflect on me. If it is, you should cross-check your choices. Did you hesitate on a particular action because you were afraid of how it would look? Do you fail to listen to others because you felt your ego was challenged?

Be Decisive and Disciplined

If you wait until you have all the information you want, you will never make a decision. Leaders have to know when to be decisive. An indecisive leader produces an indecisive team. If you lead with knowledge and preparedness, you’ll have a team that can make decisions that ensure success, even when you are away from the office.

Be disciplined. It is one of the essential Seal principles: “We demand discipline. We expect innovation.” Isn’t that what every leader wants?

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